Phantom Blade Zero is the perfect post-Elden Ring tonic I've been waiting for
Phantom Blade Zero became an instant, if unexpected contender for best in show at yesterday's PlayStation Showcase. A labor of love in the truest sense with a lineage that spans well over 10 years, this blood-spilling, bold and boisterous action-RPG has flavors of Sifu, Dark Souls, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and, mostly as a result of the latter two, Elden Ring. I've spent a long time in the, ahem, loving throes of all four, and now want nothing more than for Phantom Blade Zero to lead me by the hand into its 'Kungfupunk' world, and chop me up with a masterfully-timed display of brutal swordsmanship.
The term Kungfupunk – a portmanteau combining 'Kung Fu' and 'punk', assumedly – is one that I reckon might turn me away in a fit of cringe in other circumstances, but Phantom Blade Zero's mention of converging worlds and incongruous disciplines is interesting, and it all looks bloody fantastic in motion. I've longed for dedicated Elden Ring samurai DLC content for some time, and while Phantom Blade Zero is still without a concrete release date, I cannot wait to see what it's got in store from here.
Kick, punch, chop
ONTO THE NEXT
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Standing on the shoulders of indie outfit S-Game's previous Rainblood series, Phantom Blade Zero carries the action-RPG torch from the RPG Maker engine and smartphones, to Unreal Engine 5 and the PS5 respectively. Not that Rainblood was some grassroots basement project that failed to get off the ground – what started as a distraction for the creator while studying Architecture in Beijing, grew into a popular series boasting a fanbase of "over 20 million" players. S-Game describes Phantom Blade Zero as "the spiritual rebirth of the original Rainblood", and while I've admittedly not played Rainblood in any shape or form before (the games weren't released outside of China), I'm more than happy to take the creator at their word.
Because Phantom Blade Zero looks awesome. The PlayStation Showcase reveal trailer teased narrative elements – including a mysterious figure whose cracked porcelain face reminded me of Dark Souls' Priscilla in The Painted World of Ariamis; and a slew of larger-than-life boss characters who could be easily have been plucked from the depths of Elden Ring's dungeons – but its in-game combat footage absolutely dazzled.
Fast and frantic close-quarters combat followed epic maneuvers that saw the player charging down swathes of enemies, sword always raised and guard never broken. At one point the player takes cover behind a pillar, leveraging the wooden upright as cover. At another, they sprint up a wall, before smashing back to earth with so much force their hulking foe loses their footing. The same disregard for gravity and the laws of physics applies to traversal – we see the player running vertical across stony chasms to reach higher ground – by my own favorite moment among all of this blistering action was when the player stormed the battleground against several foes, deflected the bullets of one ranged enemy, sprinted towards another two, and kicked one in the face, while simultaneously slashing another across the jaw with an extended blade with the agility of a gymnast.
"'Patience is the key, master,' says an unnamed and unseen character during Phantom Blade Zero's reveal trailer. And now it's time for us to practice what they preach."
It's not always fair to compare one game with another, but having spent literally hundreds of hours enjoying myself in Elden Ring's Lands Between, I think it's only natural that I've begun to dream of pastures new. I absolutely adored Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice's fantastical take on feudal Japan, and its steep but fair learning curve that steadily transformed you from hapless button-basher, to master sword-fighter. Sifu's meticulous Chinese martials arts-inspired combat was so, so punishing but never unfair – and so to be given vibes from all of these masterpieces here, I reckon that's pretty exciting.
You might be on the same boat, and while it's early days yet for Phantom Blade Zero, while we continue to wait for Elden Ring's Shadows of the Erdtree DLC, and, like any hints of a Sekiro sequel, I think it's fine if we allow ourselves to dream. "Patience is the key, master," says an unnamed and unseen character during Phantom Blade Zero's reveal trailer. And now it's time for us to practice what they preach.
While we wait for Phantom Blade Zero, check out 10 games like Elden Ring